Location: Southeastern Asia, northeast of Thailand, west
Geographic coordinates: 18 00 N, 105 00 E
Map references: Southeast Asia
total: 236,800 sq km
land: 230,800 sq km
water: 6,000 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly larger than Utah
total: 5,083 km
border countries: Burma 235 km, Cambodia 541 km, China 423
km, Thailand 1,754 km, Vietnam 2,130 km
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
Maritime claims: none (landlocked)
Climate: tropical monsoon; rainy season (May to November);
dry season (December to April)
Terrain: mostly rugged mountains; some plains and plateaus
lowest point: Mekong River 70 m
highest point: Phou Bia 2,817 m
Natural resources: timber, hydropower, gypsum, tin, gold,
arable land: 3%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 3%
forests and woodland: 54%
other: 40% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 1,250 sq km (1993 est.)
note: rainy season irrigation - 2,169 sq km; dry season irrigation
- 750 sq km (1998 est.)
Natural hazards: floods, droughts, and blight
Environment - current issues: unexploded ordnance; deforestation;
soil erosion; a majority of the population does not have access
to potable water
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification,
Environmental Modification, Law of the Sea, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note: landlocked
The peoples Democratic
Republic of Laos is located in the center of Indochina, sharing
borders with China to the north, Thailand to the West, Cambodia
to the south, and Vietnam to the east.
Cambodia shares 236.800
square kilometres, around 70% of its terrain is mountains,reaching
a maximum elevations for 2820 m in the province of Xieng Khoung.
The landscape of northern Laos and the regions adjacent to Vietnam
in particular are dominated by hills.
The Mekong River
is the main geographical feature in the West and in fact, forms
a natural border with Thailand in some areas. The Mekong River flows
through nearly 1,900 km of Lao territory and shapes much of the
lifestyle of the people of Laos. In the south the Mekong reaches
a breadth of 14 km, creating an area with thousands of islands.
Laos enjoys a tropical
climate with two distinct seasons, that is the rainy season from
the beginning of May to the end of September.And the dry season
is from October to throughout April.
The yearly average
temperature is about 28 C, rising to a maximum temperatures of 38
C in April and May.In Vientiane minimum temperature of 19 C are
to be expected in January. In mountainous areas. However, tempreatures
drop to 14 to 15 C during the winter months and in cold nights easily
reach the freezing point.
The average precipitation
is highest in southern Laos, where the Annamite Mountains receive
over 3000 mm annually. In Vientiane rainfall is about 1500 to about
2000 mm. And in the northern province only 1000 to about 1500 mm.
Laos is a country in Southeast Asia. It is a tropical land of mountains
and thick forests drenched by heavy rains.
Laos has rich soil and valuable mineral deposits, but its economy
has never been developed.
The country's official name is the Lao People's Democratic Republic.
Vientiane is its capital and largest city.
In 1975 the communist Pathet Lao took control of the government,
ending a six-century-old monarchy.
Initial closer ties to Vietnam and socialization were replaced with
a gradual return to private enterprise, an easing of foreign investment
laws, and the admission into ASEAN in 1997.
Location and Size: Landlocked nation of approximately
236,800 square kilometers in center of Southeast Asian peninsula,
bordered by China to the north, Burma to the northwest, Thailand
to the west, Vietnam to the east, and Cambodia to the south.
Land Boundaries: 5,083 kilometers total; Burma,
235 kilometers; Cambodia, 541 kilometers; China, 423 kilometers;
Thailand, 1,754 kilometers; Vietnam, 2,130 kilometers. Most of western
border demarcated by Mekong River.
Topography and Drainage: Largely mountainous,
with elevations above 500 meters typically characterized by steep
terrain and narrow river valleys. Only about 4 percent of total
land area arable.
Climate: Tropical monsoon; rainy season from May
through October, cool dry season from November through February,
and hot dry season March and April.
Data as of July 1994
THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
Laos, a landlocked nation that covers 236,800 square kilometers
in the center of the Southeast Asian peninsula, is surrounded by
Burma, Cambodia, China, Thailand, and Vietnam (see
fig. 3). Its location has often made it a buffer between more
powerful neighboring states, as well as a crossroads for trade and
communication (see Developments
in the Nineteenth Century , ch. 1; Foreign
Trade , ch. 3). Migration and international conflict have contributed
to the present ethnic composition of the country and to the geographic
distribution of its ethnic groups.
Data as of July 1994
Most of the western border of Laos is demarcated by the Mekong
River, which is an important artery for transportation . The Khong
falls at the southern end of the country prevent access to the sea,
but cargo boats travel along the entire length of the Mekong in
Laos during most of the year. Smaller power boats and pirogues provide
an important means of transportation on many of the tributaries
of the Mekong. The Mekong has thus not been an obstacle but a facilitator
for communication, and the similarities between Laos and northeast
Thai society--same people, same language--reflect the close contact
that has existed across the river for centuries. Also, many Laotians
living in the Mekong Valley have relatives and friends in Thailand.
Prior to the twentieth century, Laotian kingdoms and principalities
encompassed areas on both sides of the Mekong, and Thai control
in the late nineteenth century extended to the left bank. Although
the Mekong was established as a border by French colonial forces,
travel from one side to the other has been significantly limited
only since the establishment of the Lao People's Democratic Republic
(LPDR, or Laos) in 1975.
The eastern border with Vietnam extends for 2,130 kilometers, mostly
along the crest of the Annamite Chain, and serves as a physical
barrier between the Chinese-influenced culture of Vietnam and the
Indianized states of Laos and Thailand. These mountains are sparsely
populated by tribal minorities who traditionally have not acknowledged
the border with Vietnam any more than lowland Lao have been constrained
by the 1,754-kilometer Mekong River border with Thailand. Thus,
ethnic minority populations are found on both the Laotian and Vietnamese
sides of the frontier. Because of their relative isolation, contact
between these groups and lowland Lao has been mostly confined to
Laos shares its short--only 541 kilometers--southern border with
Cambodia, and ancient Khmer ruins at Wat Pho and other southern
locations attest to the long history of contact between the Lao
and the Khmer. In the north, the country is bounded by a mountainous
423-kilometer border with China and shares the 235- kilometer-long
Mekong River border with Burma.
The topography of Laos is largely mountainous, with elevations
above 500 meters typically characterized by steep terrain, narrow
river valleys, and low agricultural potential. This mountainous
landscape extends across most of the north of the country, except
for the plain of Vientiane and the Plain of Jars in Xiangkhoang
Province. The southern "panhandle" of the country contains large
level areas in Savannakhét and Champasak provinces that are well
suited for extensive paddy rice cultivation and livestock raising
. Much of Khammouan Province and the eastern part of all the southern
provinces are mountainous. Together, the alluvial plains and terraces
of the Mekong and its tributaries cover only about 20 percent of
the land area.
Only about 4 percent of the total land area is classified as arable.
The forested land area has declined significantly since the 1970s
as a result of commercial logging and expanded swidden, or slash-and-burn,
Data as of July 1994
Laos has a tropical monsoon climate, with a pronounced rainy season
from May through October, a cool dry season from November through
February, and a hot dry season in March and April. Generally, monsoons
occur at the same time across the country, although that time may
vary significantly from one year to the next. Rainfall also varies
regionally, with the highest amounts-- 3,700 millimeters annually--recorded
on the Bolovens Plateau in Champasak Province. City rainfall stations
have recorded that Savannakhét averages 1,440 millimeters of rain
annually; Vientiane receives about 1,700 millimeters, and Louangphrabang
(Luang Prabang) receives about 1,360 millimeters. Rainfall is not
always adequate for rice cultivation, however, and the relatively
high average precipitation conceals years where rainfall may be
only half or less of the norm, causing significant declines in rice
yields. Such droughts often are regional, leaving production in
other parts of the country unaffected. Temperatures range from highs
around 40°C along the Mekong in March and April to lows of 5°C
or less in the uplands of Xiangkhoang and Phôngsali in January.
Data as of July 1994
Because of its mountainous topography and lack of development,
Laos has few reliable transportation routes. This inaccessibility
has historically limited the ability of any government to maintain
a presence in areas distant from the national or provincial capitals
and has limited interchange and communication among villages and
ethnic groups . The Mekong and Nam Ou are the only natural channels
suitable for large-draft boat transportation, and from December
through May low water limits the size of the craft that may be used
over many routes. Laotians in lowland villages located on the banks
of smaller rivers have traditionally traveled in pirogues for fishing,
trading, and visiting up and down the river for limited distances.
Otherwise, travel is by ox-cart over level terrain or by foot. The
steep mountains and lack of roads have caused upland ethnic groups
to rely entirely on pack baskets and horse packing for transportation.
The road system is not extensive. However, a rudimentary network
begun under French colonial rule and continued from the 1950s has
provided an important means of increased intervillage communication,
movement of market goods, and a focus for new settlements. In mid-1994,
travel in most areas was difficult and expensive, and most Laotians
traveled only limited distances, if at all. As a result of ongoing
improvements in the road system during the early 1990s, however,
it is expected that in the future villagers will more easily be
able to seek medical care, send children to schools at district
centers, and work outside the village.
Data as of July 1994
Expanding commercial exploitation of forests, plans for additional
hydroelectric facilities, foreign demands for wild animals and nonwood
forest products for food and traditional medicines, and a growing
population have brought new and increasing attention to the forests.
Traditionally, forests have been important sources of wild foods,
herbal medicines, and timber for house construction. Even into the
1990s, the government viewed the forest as a valued reserve of natural
products for noncommercial household consumption. Government efforts
to preserve valuable hardwoods for commercial extraction have led
to measures to prohibit swidden cultivation throughout the country
. Further, government restrictions on clearing forestland for swidden
cropping in the late 1980s, along with attempts to gradually resettle
upland swidden farming villages (ban--)
to lowland locations suitable for paddy rice cultivation, had significant
effects on upland villages. Traditionally, villages rely on forest
products as a food reserve during years of poor rice harvest and
as a regular source of fruits and vegetables. By the 1990s, however,
these gathering systems were breaking down in many areas. At the
same time, international concern about environmental degradation
and the loss of many wildlife species unique to Laos has also prompted
the government to consider the implications of these developments.
Data as of July 1994